Nowak will not be able to repeat his 1998 expansion-team run to the title.
The Union raised eyebrows with a lineup loaded with youth. Notable by their absence were captain Danny Califf, Stefani Miglioranzi, and Fred, who were regular starters all season.
Was the home side signaling surrender in the hunt for the post-season, instead giving auditions for the potential future of the club?
Not according to Peter Nowak. The Philadelphia team manager insisted the veterans were not benched for performance reasons, or because the Union’s playoff chances had grown dim.
After playing three games in a week—including a disastrous trip to Colorado for a 4-1 thumping--Nowak wanted to give his experienced players some rest.
“You were surprised [by the lineup], yes?” the coach asked after the game. “Listen, it was a tough couple of days we had behind us. Because of the weather conditions the flight [from Colorado] was delayed, and with the altitude on Wednesday, that was very significant factor to the lineup today.”
While pleased with his team’s effort and hopeful about the future, missing a chance to play for the MLS Cup was a bitter pill for the coach to swallow. No one knows the potential for new teams better than the Poland native, who guided the expansion Chicago Fire all the way to the championship in 1998.
“It’s always disappointing not making the playoffs,” Nowak conceded. “But I believe that still in MLS history, we are #3 behind Seattle last year and Chicago in ’98 among expansion teams.”
When asked how he would approach the club’s last few games—especially high-profile contests against the New York Red Bulls and L.A. Galaxy--the gaffer claimed he would not treat them any differently now that there is technically nothing for which to play.
“We still have 9 points left to play for. That is the message the staff gave to the team,” he said.
The game was not without controversy. Fans in The River End—Philadelphia’s supporter section—chanted “U.S. Reject” at Brian Ching before the game. Ching just missed being named to the U.S. national team for last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear was not amused.
“I find that somewhat…kid-like,” Kinnear said, after pausing a few moments to search for the proper adjective.
“Fans should appreciate [Ching’s] efforts, not criticize them,” the longtime MLS coach told the media after the game. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
But Kinnear made sure to praise the Union facilities before leaving the podium.
“Beautiful stadium. Love it,” he said.
Despite the verbal abuse thrown his way, Ching also voiced his approval of PPL Park and the fans.
“I think the atmosphere tonight was fantastic,” the Hawaiian maintained. “The fans were good and I think they got to see a good game.”
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